Down on the Farm
By the time you read this all of the silage will be cut and baled and stacked ready for next winters feed. The early cut was a bit low on volume due to the dry start to the season but the main later cut has been good with decent volumes and nutrient levels. We had decent weather during cutting as well which means we can get the crop cut, spread, wilted, re-rowed and baled within two to three days. This helps preserve the nutrient levels and therefore the feed quality for the coming winter. If you have seen any of the purple wrapped bales around anywhere – they’re part of a charity fundraiser for a local agricultural supplier (Carrs Billington) – certainly eye-catching. I’m afraid ours are just boring green as we had quite a supply of wrap left from last year to use up. The machinery played ball most of the time as well with only a few minor stoppages for mechanical stuff. Most of the newer kit has that many sensors and alarms that we are generally warned well in advance if something is starting to go wrong so that’s usually a help. However, all it takes is one big rock or branch to make a mess of your day as it lunches it way through the mechanics. Obviously, this never happens to us though – only other people!!
Things will start getting busier from mid July on as we start to move into harvest – we should be onto the early barley during the last week of the month if the weather holds and continue on all through August. The crops are generally looking well although some more rain earlier in the season might have given us higher yields. However, the pest and disease levels have been better than normal for us this year so that has helped. The combine will have had a good check over before heading out – hopefully we will spot anything amiss before we get a breakdown in the field. The first few times around the field are always a bit anxious and every funny noise or vibration gets the drivers imagination going. The first unload on the move is always a laugh as well – it always takes me a couple of loads to get the speed matched properly to the combine so you avoid grain spilling over the edge of the trailer.
After the barley we will get onto the oilseed rape – we have a lower acreage of this than normal so that shouldn’t take too long. Depending on the weather we hope to get away with the minimum of crop drying this year – we need to get the moisture levels down below a critical level if we want to store grain for feeding over the winter. Obviously the more this is done by the nice free sunshine, the less we have to do through the expensive drier.
Once we get into the wheat then it gets busier as we will also be starting to prepare ground for the next crop. We’ll take this opportunity to spread some of the manure stacks on the stubble fields as well – extra fertility and organic matter into the spoil produced by the housed cattle and pigs during the winter. By doing this and using grass and oilseed rape as break crops in the rotation we aim to keep the soil in good health.
The cattle become less time consuming during the summer as they are all out at grass. Obviously, they all have to be checked a couple of times a day along with water troughs, any feeders etc but generally they just get their heads down and get on with the business of grazing and putting on weight. The pigs like the warmer weather as well – we let the muck passages get a bit wetter than normal so that they can roll about a bit and cool off if they want. Their shed is well sited though and the boarding on the sides is designed to direct the air through the building so it never really gets too hot.
With lambing well and truly out the way, things have settled down again to a more routine time on the farm. Overall, lambing has gone well, the decent weather during April has meant that the ewes could be turned out with their lambs quite quickly without having to be inside for too long. This is a huge help both in terms of workload but also in keeping down health problems and infections. No matter how careful we are, there is always a build-up of bacteria and potential infection when you have livestock housed. It’s always better for the sheep to be out in the fresh air and with the “sun on their backs” as the older shepherds always recommend. The grass growth has been fairly early this year as well so they have all gone onto decent pastures. This helps the lambs thrive better as the ewes always seem to produce better milk when they are eating largely grass as opposed to hay or supplementary feed. We will keep feeding some barley ration to them though to make sure they don’t lose too much condition during lactation. We have managed to get all of the hog lambs clipped early and they are now in the paddocks at the farm shop Next job will be doing the breeding ewes – we will try to get this all done by June to keep any fly issues to a minimum.
The current dry spell means we are going to start needing rain now to keep growth going both for the livestock and for the fields we are closing up for silage in a few weeks time. The silage fields have been rolled to knock any smaller stones back down to keep them out of the way of the mower blades later on – anything bigger gets picked up and dropped in the dyke backs. Natural movements, or “heave” of the soil during winter caused by moisture, frost etc gradually bring stones to the surface so this is something we need to do each year. The silage fields have already had their first application of fertilizer – now they need warmer and slightly damper weather to get going.
The arable crops have all come through the winter OK – even a couple of fields that were very late sown have thickened out now and started to catch up with the earlier ones. Again, they are starting to feel the effects of the last few weeks without rain and some of the leaves are starting to look a bit yellow and dry, especially in the fields that are more exposed to wind. The fertilizer has been put on though so as soon as it gets damp they should motor ahead again. We will need to keep a close eye on pests and diseases this year as the mild winter means that they are less likely to have been killed off. We have a specialist who walks the crops on a regular basis and gives us recommendations on the best treatment for any problems. We try to keep any applications to a minimum both for environmental and cost reasons.
The cattle are virtually all back out again with the normal rodeo antics when they get to come out of the buildings. They soon settle down though and within an hour they are all heads down at the fresh grass. This then lets us get all the sheds mucked out and the manure stacked ready for spreading later in the year when it has rotted down a bit. Once the cattle are all out then the daily workload of feeding and bedding reduces dramatically so the lads can start to concentrate on other things. There is always a backlog of maintenance jobs to do after winter – occasionally we even manage to get half of them done before it gets busy again!!
We had a great turnout again for the lamb feeding at the farm shop at Easter – hopefully everyone had a good time. The lambs were a bit older this time so there was certainly plenty of milk being guzzled down.
After the rush of Christmas and New Year it’s been good to get back into more of a routine again. The winter has been pretty kind to us so far – always a bonus when there is no snow. All the talk of polar vortexes and massive chills seemed to pass us by in the North East thankfully.
Work on the farm at this time of year is pretty much dictated by the temperature and how long the days are. If it’s cold enough to freeze the ground we try to get some of the manure taken out to the fields ready for spreading later in the year. There haven’t been many days like this so far although it looks like the end of Jan and start of Feb might get some lower temperatures. If it’s too soft the tractors and heavy trailers just track up the ground too much, causing compaction which hampers growth in the next crop.
We took a chance by planting some wheat fields at the very end of the season in the Autumn – initially they were very slow to come through but they seem to have rallied a bit and hopefully will fill out more as the ground warms up. I think Paul is keen to get the seed in a couple of weeks earlier next time to save the stress of waiting to see if they are ever going to come up.
The ewes have been getting plenty of supplementary feeding to keep them in good condition during their pregnancy. They are all still outside but they do have access to come into some covered areas if the weather gets too bad. So far, virtually all the ewes have held in lamb and they are looking good. We will start to monitor them more closely as pregnancy progresses to spot any which need extra feed or attention. It’s always time well spent as lambing goes so much better when you have a strong healthy ewe with plenty of milk and two good strong lambs. Hopefully by the end of March, we will have some good fresh grass to get the new lambs onto. We planted some new grass leys last year which should be coming good this spring and summer, although we need to be careful not to overgraze them in the first season.
The store lambs we still have that were born last year don’t really grow much more at this time of the year – it’s a matter of managing their feeding so that we have a steady flow of correctly finished lambs available for the farm shop. The crossbred lambs we now have (North Country Mule X Beltex) are better at maintaining condition longer than the Suffolk crossbreeds we used to have
All the cattle are still indoors so it’s very much the normal feeding and bedding routine for our farm staff. In between they try to do any repairs and maintenance while things are quiet. The new cattle feeder is working well – it chops and mixes the silage, barley and soya with a huge pair of contra rotating blades and paddles, then chucks it out the side into the feed troughs. It means one person can safely feed 400 cattle in a morning, pretty much without having to get off the machines. It also gives them plenty of opportunity to have a good check of the cattle every morning as they come forward to the troughs.
The sheds are pretty well stocked this winter so we are getting well through the silage we made last summer – when it’s decent quality the cattle just simply eat more so they are the best judge of how well we have done. We are currently sending regular loads of cattle up into Scotland where they pay a premium for the Aberdeen Angus crosses we have. Only about 10% of our beef cattle are selected for the shop, the rest go to other butchers and general food trade. That means that we can choose the very best for ourselves – lighter heifers with just the right amount of condition so that we can hang them well for taste and texture.
This year coming should prove to be an interesting one for farmers (as well as everyone else) as the Brexit process goes forwards. At the moment it’s still very unclear how the agricultural support system will be changed – for sure we think it will include more moves towards environmental schemes and sustainable land management. Northumberland still has many of the traditional mixed farms, especially in the hill areas so we hope they will still be properly supported to help maintain the epic countryside we have in these parts.
The middle of August and the last week of dry weather has seen us flat out on harvesting barley. A patchy growing season has given us slightly smaller grain size and straw yield than we would have liked but it is OK. We use most of the barley ourselves for feeding cattle over the winter so the grain size is not as important as it would be if we were selling to a miller. The barley straw is now all baled and safely inside ready for bedding for the winter. We keep most of the barley straw for the pigs and sheep as it’s softer and more absorbent than the wheat – we use this mainly for cattle bedding.
The oilseed rape is next to be cut – as I write we are getting the combine recalibrated and set up for that. Because the rape seeds are much smaller and lighter than the barley the internal threshing mechanism, sieves and blowers all have to be re-set after the barley so that the combine can do its job efficiently. If we don’t do this too many of the tiny oilseeds will be blown out with the chaff or fall through the sieves. Not only does this reduce the yield but it also means that they will drop to the ground and then germinate amongst next years cereal crop – not ideal. We also add a special vertical side knife to the combine header so that the machine can get through the dense tangle of the rape plants without getting stems wrapped around the rotating reel at the front of the combine.
After the oilseed rape, we will have a few days before we get into the bulk of the wheat crop – always depending on the weather of course. We have actually started sowing next years oilseed rape crop before we have harvested last years. It’s a crop that needs to be planted early to get established – last year we were delayed due to poor autumn weather resulting in poor plant germination and a failed crop in a couple of fields. This is when the pressure really starts to come on when we have to split the team up to cover both harvesting and sowing at the same time. I might even have to work for a living then for a few weeks! Hopefully we will have some decent dry weather over the next month so we can get ahead.
Livestock normally take a bit of a back seat at this time of the year as everything is out at grass and juest needs daily checks etc. there are still the cattle and lambs to be selected for the farm shop though and this gives us an opportunity each week to get up close and check everything is still growing well and putting on condition. We need to be on top of lamb condition all the time now so that we are selecting the better growing ones before they put on too much fat cover. The lambs have done very well over the last few weeks with some sun on their backs and some great fresh regrowth on the silage fields coming through, ideal for younger lambs.
As you know we purchase small weaner pigs and then grow them on at our own farm until they are the right size for the farm shop. Up till now we have sourced these from a farm near Edinburgh but they have decided to now build another finishing building so want to retain all of their production for this. The good news is that we have found a source of very similar weaners much closer to home at Cockle Park near Morpeth. So not only are they reared on our own farm, they have also been born within 10 miles as well. We have taken the opportunity to completely wash and disinfect the whole building where the pigs are reared – the first batch of new pigs is now well settled in and enjoying their new surroundings. Cockle Park Farm is a mixed farm owned by Newcastle University so we might well be doing some work with the students at the farm shop as well, looking at the benefits of the whole “Farm to Fork” process. The university has a very strong agriculture and food science and production department and we have hosted student visits for several years now.
Summer Food Demonstration
Weds 27th July
Our informal evening event will start by taking you through some of the skills of our butchery team while they show you how to prepare our new season lamb, make handmade sausages and also where your favourite sausages come from.
The Kitchen team will then demonstrate some great ideas for summer picnics and BBQ food using our own and local produce.
Cost is only £5 per head and includes a glass of wine or a local beer and loads of samples and tasters. Places are limited so please call us to book on 01670 789350 or e-mail on email@example.com
The great warm weather at the beginning of May has helped to get everything moving again at the farm. After lambing finishes in April, it’s always good to get some fresh grass growing quickly to keep up with the grazing demands of the ewes and lambs. When the soil temperature rises then the grass can better utilize any fertilizer and nutrients and really start bulking out. It’s always a surprise how fast a squad of hungry ewes and their lambs can lay bare what looked like a nice lush paddock. Early in the season we try to keep them moving around different fields as much as possible to allow the pasture to regrow before it gets eaten down too much. We will shortly be starting to clip the ewes – we need to wait for a few consecutive warmer days as that helps to get the wool to lift and makes it easier for the shearers. As usual we will be getting in a professional to do this for us – my sheep clipping skills are pretty much non-existent – if it was left to me I think we would still be clipping in August. Getting the fleece off early means the ewes are more comfortable when it gets hotter and we reduce the risks of fly strike where eggs are laid on a damp fleece which subsequently develop into maggots and all the problems for the sheep that that causes. The wool we produce is wrapped and stored in huge sacks until it gets collected later in the year.
The cattle are all pretty much back outside again both around the farm and on the Town Moor. The few that are still inside are finishing off what remains of last years silage. Once they are out then we will have a mammoth mucking out session to give us chance to get the building cleaned and rested. All of the manure will then be stacked and will get chance to compost down a bit before we spread it on the arable fields later in the year.
We have just started to roll some fields which will be closed up shortly for silage making in a few weeks time. This will allow the grass time to recover from grazing and to take advantage of the fertilizer we have applied. The grass we sow in these fields is designed to produce a heavier crop and be used fort as part of the crop rotation unlike the fields which we use for permanent grazing which have been down to grass only for years. They will also be rolled with a heavy steel roller to push any stones down into the soil – frost and rain over the winter causes the ground to “heave” which brings stones to the surface – not a good thing when the very expensive blades of the mower hits them at speed. Of course, it’s an unwritten law that this will only happen just as soon as you have installed that nice new set of blades!! Once the grass is long enough, it will be mown, allowed to wilt for a short while and then baled and wrapped in plastic to allow it to ferment and preserve the grass for later. You can see that farming is basically all about a lot of forward planning – we have just let the cattle back out after winter and already we are sorting out their feed for the next winter.
Many of you will know that we buy in our weaner pigs at around 30kg and then grow them on to around 90kg until they are ready for the farm shop. For the last few years we have been sourcing these from Robin who farms in the Borders they have been really great pigs but he has built himself a nice new shed and will now be finishing all of his pigs himself. As we have known about this for several months we have arranged with a local farmer Mathew to produce our weaners for us much closer to home – probably less than 10 miles away. The first batch from him will arrive at the farm in June and will be very similar to what we have already been using, meaning the quality of the pork, bacon, sausages etc will be just as good as before.
The start of spring and summer also changes what goes on at the farm shop. The first few sunny weekends always mean the BBQs get dragged out and fired up so the demand for sausages and burgers shoots up. The kids area has been very busy with the goats getting loads of attention as usual. The new toddler ride-ons have been getting plenty of use. There are several events coming up over the next few months – the next one is our Hog Roast on the 28th May. As usual all the information is on our website or you can sign up for our e-mail newsletter and get updates that way.
I don’t need to tell you that this has been a wet last few months – it’s great to start seeing some sunshine at last as we start to come out of the winter. The snowdrops are looking good so maybe this winter had=s suited them just fine.
The rain has caused a few issues on the arable side of the farm especially with some of the oilseed rape crops. A couple of the fields were sown later than recommended as we were struggling to get land into the right condition to sow. As a result, they struggled to get established properly before the winter and it is now showing up with some very big bare patches in those fields. We also suspect there were a higher than normal number of slugs about in the back end – they love a good munch on tender rapeseed shoots!! Oilseed rape has a good ability to “tiller out” or spread to fill the gaps but even so, we might be looking at a spring re-seed with a different crop. It’s a toss up between letting things be and accepting a lower yield or investing time and money in re-sowing with the expectation of a better return with a different crop. We can let things run for a few weeks though to see if the increase in temperature will help to bring things along. The rest of the arable crops (barley and wheat) are looking fine although they will start to need some fertilizer shortly to help keep things growing well. However, we have got off lightly compared to some places on the West side of the country where farmers have lost entire crops and even livestock in the flooding.
The sheep have not enjoyed the damp conditions over the winter either – we have had to keep their supplementary feed levels up to makes sure the ewes have maintained their condition ready for lambing. Let condition drop too much and the ewes will produce smaller lambs and less milk when they come to lamb. That’s a combination that doesn’t make for a happy shepherd! Fortunately we have plenty of good quality silage available as well as our own barley so they have a good mixed ration to eat when grass growth has been slow. The ewes are looking fit in spite of the wet conditions although we have had to work hard over the winter to keep their feet and hooves in good shape.
Just a heads up on the lamb feeding days at the farm shop this year – we normally hold this over Easter weekend but as this falls o early this year we will have to wait a couple of weeks so that enough lambs are available. The current planned date for this is the 9th & 10th April, but we will be giving plenty of notice closer to the time.
Our store lambs were bought inside for much of January and February as the paddocks they normally graze were so wet that they were getting damaged or “poached” where the grass plants get trodden in and start to allow space for weeds to get in. We obviously try to avoid this as it affects the quality of the sward for the next years grazing. We also need to avoid the lambs that are ready for the abattoir getting their fleeces too wet or muddy so that we comply with the hygiene regulations in place.
Our cattle are still indoors and have done well over the winter as temperatures have now really been that low. Most of the work with them is feeding and bedding. We prepare all of the cattle rations ourselves – the silage crop from last summer was good quality and this has meant cattle growth has been good. We top this up with wheat and barley from the farm as well – this provides the protein element of their diet. The cereals are all crushed or rolled rather like porridge oats, to make them easier to digest. The grass silage element also provides volume to make sure there is plenty of “gut fill” to keep their rather complex 4 stage digestive system working. A cow sitting chewing the cud is generally a happy contented animal quietly going about digesting her last feed. The cattle will start to get turned out when things dry up and there is enough grass growth to keep them fed.
Some developments have happened on the pig side as well. We currently buy in our little weaner pigs from a farm on the Borders and then grow them on here until they are ready for the farm shop. We have been very happy with the pigs but in line with our “Own and Local” ethos we have decided to start taking pigs from a local lad Mathew who has started a new pig enterprise and is keen to produce weaners for us to our exact requirements. This gives us a bit more control over the type of pigs and reduces the food miles significantly. It also means the money we pay for the weaners stays in the local economy. So far things are looking good with the first batch of pigs coming from him in May.
After the rush of harvest and sowing, the farm calms down again now as we start to get ready for the winter. All of the crops have been planted now and are looking well. The good weather at the end of September and beginning of October was a great opportunity to get the land prepared, sown and rolled in good time so that the plants have chance to establish themselves before the weather gets colder. We even had rain at the right time – just after the last field was planted – the moisture is essential to promote good germination rates. For once we have ended up a bit ahead of schedule with the crops so we now have to wait and see how they develop over the next few months. We also use a specialist advisor who walks the crops on a regular basis and checks on growth rates and any pests or diseases. Most farmers have someone who does this for them now – the technical side and the huge range available of all the various treatments is becoming more and more complicated all the time and it is difficult to keep up with all the new information. That’s why we bow also use a contractor to do all our spraying – he can cover the ground in about half the time and is set up to comply with all the paperwork and record keeping that we have to keep now when using any chemicals
Grass growth slows right down now so we are starting to bring in the cattle for the winter. One of the big jobs is bringing in the 190 heifers on the Town Moor. This is a bit of an epic involving all our staff, several quad bikes, the lads who manage the moor day to day plus lots of trips with the trailer back to the farm. If we haven’t managed to strike terror into the heart of at least one jogger on the moor during the day then things must have gone too well.
They will go onto a silage and cereal diet – all of the work in June and July in making good silage pays off now as we start to use this for winter feed. We also mill and mix all of our own cereal rations for the cattle as well – this way we can make good use of our own barley and wheat. We use a large mixer wagon to do all this – it is basically a giant “magimix” on wheels (the big green thing in the pictures) with chopping and mixing blades inside. Once the rations are mixed, then we drive along the front of the cattle pens and a chute discharges the mixed feed directly in front of the cattle. For us it has two main advantages – it saves lots of manual labour and it stops the cattle picking out all the best bits first. Cattle can be like kids sometimes – trying to eat the bits they like best and push the rest to one side. It is comical to watch half a tonne of beef on the hoof delicately picking out the choice pieces of corn while trying to ignore the plainer silage.
All of the ewes are still outside but are being fed some extra cereals to make sure their energy intakes are kept up so that they maintain condition ready for mating. It is vital to make sure they are fit and healthy so that we maximise the conception rate to produce a good number of lambs for next year. We also have to make sure the tups (or rams) are in tip top shape as well – from doing nothing for the last 10 months they now have a busy 6 weeks come the beginning of November!
For our farm, this time of year gets quieter but for our turkey suppliers it is the start of their busy period. December is our busiest month in the Farm Shop so I will not be spending too much time on the farm from mid November onwards. There is a lot to do behind the scenes just keeping on top of customer orders and making sure our suppliers have everything in place for us again. It pays us to check and double check all the turkey and Christmas meat orders as they come in so we can make sure we are matching weights etc. Last year I thought my system had failed – a customer arrived to collect his turkey on the 24th but we had no record of any internet order for him. Much stress and list checking later it transpired he had ordered from Moorhouse Farm alright – but in Shropshire. Easy done and we still managed to sort him out with a nice free range bronze to take home. All of the order forms have gone out in the post now and the on-line ordering system is live on the new website. Orders are all in for our Christmas trees again – it’s been a great growing season for them so we expect some good quality trees this year. It’s also a good excuse to get the old Fergie out for a run to haul trees around
For as long as I can remember we have always started cutting our winter barley in July – not this year. The combine finally got started on the 3rd August after rain stopped play in the second half of July. Fortunately all the crops still seem to be standing up well – sometimes a heavy crop will go flat as the wind and rain causes the stalks to break. This makes it harder to cut, slows the combine down and can also reduce the yield if the grains start to drop out of the heads. Even though it has been wet, the moisture content of the grain is still good – the first few loads were around 15% which means they only need a small amount of drying to bring it down to a safe level of 13-14% for storage. The moisture levels across the crop will vary though as we go through harvest,, depending on the variety, ripeness and rainfall. Obviously we try to avoid using the on-farm dryer as much as possible as it is expensive to run and is also another job to add to the list.
Nice sunny harvest weather is also important for straw quality. We bale all of our straw (the stalks left after the grain has been stripped off) for bedding the cattle and pigs during the winter. This is baled into huge 1 tonne rectangular bales and if the straw is too wet then it can spoil after the bales are stacked. Heat builds up inside the tightly compressed bales and creates moulds – although very rare, it has been known for the heat to increase so much that the bales will smoulder and go on fire. We try to save the barley straw for the pigs as it is softer and more absorbent than the wheat straw – the cattle don’t seem to mind as much. Although the pigs are “monogastrics” (one stomach, like us) and eat a cereal based diet, it’s amazing how much straw they will chew through as they forage about if the quality is good.
After barley, the oilseed rape will be next to do followed by the winter wheat. We have a couple of spring sown barley fields as well which will be last to be ready. The start of harvest is always relatively calm – as we progress we need to bale and stack straw, start cultivating ground for re-sowing, then sowing next years winter crops. When all of these start to happen at the same time it gets a bit frantic. This is also the opportunity for us to spread some of the manure from the stock that was housed over the winter back onto the arable land. This then gets ploughed back into the soil to add fertility and organic matter back and replace the nutrients taken out by the previous crop.
Our lambs have continued to grow well after being weaned – the warm and damp weather has meant we have had plenty of good fresh grass for them to go at. Our challenge is to try and keep the lambs growing at a sensible rate so that we have them available for the farm shop for a long as possible during the year. As well as size, we select the lambs on condition or fat levels – keep them too long and they get too fat and too big. Fortunately, just like humans, there is always a fair variation in growth rates in the flock anyway – our job is to carefully select the ones that are just coming ready each week before they go over-fat. This means getting them in at least every fortnight and feeling over the ribs, spine and tail to see which ones have put on condition.
We have been treating them with an anti-fly spray to make sure that we reduce “strike” problems to a minimum. Adult blowflies need to lay their eggs somewhere warm and damp and a nice wool fleece can provide just the right environment. The eggs hatch into larvae and will start to attack the animals skin as they grow – not a pleasant thing and one we work hard to avoid. Compared to the sheep, our pigs are very easy to manage – they rarely suffer from much as long as they are well bedded out, have plenty of feed and water and space to rummage around.
Our new chickens have settled in well at the farm shop – another visit from Mr Fox has meant we have had to fortify the chicken pen and install an automatic door on the coop. A box of tricks senses the light levels – at dusk it closes the door and opens it again as the light increases after dawn. Chickens naturally roost as it gets dark so we have been checking for the first few nights that they were all inside before the door closed – so far so good. They have already started to lay well -spot the pullet egg compared to our standard ones!
Activity on the farm has gone up a notch over the last week as we try to take advantage of the dry weather. We got the lambs clipped ahead of schedule as the wool had started to rise anyway, and it’s always best to get it off as early as possible. In warmer weather the sheep can get bothered by flies which love to lay eggs in damp wool – the less wool thee is then the fewer problems we will have with “strike” as it’s called. We don’t dip the sheep any longer but use a spray on product instead which helps protect against insects and parasites which may be present. Its probably not quite as effective as full dipping but it’s certainly less stressful for both the sheep and us – we can also do a second dose later in the season if needs be.
We have started taking the first draw of this seasons lambs – the big singles have done very well with decent weather and good grass growth. It’s always interesting to check the grading’s against what we estimated when we were selecting and the first few have been a pleasant surprise, with a slightly better weight and conformation than we were expecting. We select lambs on size and by feeling by hand how much fat cover they have over the top of the tail, the backbone and on the shoulder. At this stage of the season it’s relatively easy to differentiate the better finished ones – it’s always a balancing act between letting the lambs grow bigger without letting them get too fat. As we use almost all the lambs ourselves in the farm shop we can see very quickly when we get it right and when we get it a bit wrong – hopefully not too often or I get into trouble with the butchers!
Silage making has gone well, with plenty of decent drop already baled, wrapped and stored for feeding next winter. Quality should be good as the crop was wilted for a couple of days in strong sunshine to reduce the moisture content a bit – this gives better fermentation and retains the sugar content at a higher level. The lambs will graze on the fresh grass that grows back after we take the silage crop. There is the option to take another cut off some of the first season grass fields or “seeds fields” as they are known. We will judge that a bit later depending on how well they re-grow and how much feed we think we will need. At some point they will also need a light application of fertilizer to help re-growth.
The arable crops look like they are doing well, especially the barley where the heads are well set and looking quite full. We have even had the combine out ahead of schedule to check it over in case we need to make an early start – now that’s organised for us. However, no doubt as soon as the first really sunny day hits we will have some sort of a machinery breakdown – it’s traditional. At this stage the correct balance of rain and sunshine is essential to get the grains to swell so that we maximise yield but not to be so wet that the grain doesn’t ripen or the quality suffers. I was with some friends who farm in Gloucestershire recently and they were showing me the effects of a dry spell on their spring sown crops – they were stunted and sparse and yield will be down. Their land is light and dries out quickly – in a wet year they do better than most but when it gets too dry they suffer. We generally have the opposite problem – our land is heavier and can get waterlogged with too much rain. However, the weather will be just perfect from now on until the end of harvest. (And my pigs will be getting their pilots licence soon as well!!)
Remaining Events for 2017
Climb In the Combine – Try a Tractor
– 24th & 25th June
Your chance for all you tractor fiends out there to get up close and climb on out combine and tractors and see how things work. Baler, cultivator, seed drill etc as well
Supplier Visit – Mid July
A trip to visit Northumbria Pedigree Milk – look behind the scenes of our local milk producers,
see the herd and how they get your milk and cream to you
Summer Hog Roast – Saturday 26th August
Get tucked in this Bank Holiday weekend – hog roast, live music and kids activities.
Farm to Fork – Mid September
An evening of butchery and cooking demonstrations using our own
great produce direct from the farm.